Thursday, 25 February 2010

Barratt to complete Dalston Square

Barratt are reported to be about to start the second half (the west side) of the Dalston Square development this month. Ken Livingstone's London Development Agency obtained permission for the scheme in March 2006 despite community objections and a Hackney report to it's Planning Committee describing the design as "harsh" and "austere". The development - a row of 9 private residential blocks and shops, of up to 20 storeys, with no affordable housing - will be built on The Slab, a massive concrete raft over TfL's Dalston Junction railway cutting.

The Slab, costing over £40 million, has been completed. The development includes Transport for London's "transport interchange" which will serve the reinstated East London Line station and the new bus turnaround behind it. The design of the station's entrance is not to everyone's taste .

In the depths of the credit freeze there were doubts whether Barratt could proceed. It has sustained eyewatering losses approaching £800 million over 2 years. Like all volume house builders it has been pleading with bankers to relax mortgage restrictions which have been affecting new-build sales and freezing out first time buyers who can't raise the 20% deposits bankers are demanding.

With assistance from government bail out schemes, like HomeBuy Direct which helped first time buyers bridge the funding gap, 'Too Big to Fail' Barratt were able to advertise "half-price" deals on some of the Dalston Square flats.

Debt-laden Barratt's financial problems have been relieved by favourable conditions for absentee landlords. Recent reports have described how two-thirds of the 5,500 new houses and flats sold in London during the first three quarters of 2009 were purchased as buy-to-let properties. Reports last summer described 'buy to let' marketing of Dalston Square in the far east and the announcements of Phase 1 'selling extremely well' have been talked up by 'massive interest from Far Eastern buyers'. OPEN's concern is the creation of a transient population on shorthold tenancies, which does not create sustainable balanced communities with a commitment to the area.

Nearing completion - the east side of Barratt's Dalston Square - a development of 230 flats, shop units and a 3-floor shell for a new public library - is on the Hackney Council demolition site of the former 1886 Dalston Theatre, Georgian listed houses, and what was the oldest circus entrance in the country. The historic buildings were demolished in 2007, despite vigorous community opposition, to create a valuable development site which Hackney Council traded to subsisdise The Slab.

A birds eye view of the authorities' 2006 vision for Dalston. In the foreground are the 9 blocks, which are now to be built above the railway cutting, and the ramp for the 80 buses per hour planned to emerge into the traffic of Kingsland Road and head north.

More tall storeys. This is the computer graphic used to promote Dalston Square - which some have predicted will be a sunless windswept canyon due to its north/south orientation and the accelerated windspeeds and micro-climates which the tall buildings are predicted to generate.

This is the authorities' image of Dalston Square, west side, which is about to be started (with graphic additions by an unknown local artist). But will Dalston Square attract the brand name shops which, the authorities said, the scheme's viability and Dalston's 'regeneration' depended upon? Not, it would seem, while the nation's ghost town high streets are being replicated in Dalston.

Dalston Square's completion will be proceeding amidst fears of a 'double dip' recession. Government money for more bail outs is drying up. Even with housebuilders restricting supply to maintain house prices Barratt's own predictions are of a seven year road to a recovery in its fortunes. There will clearly be pressure to downgrade the quality of what is to be built, as some local residents have seen elsewhere.

Nearly four years ago OPEN published "Save our past. Save our future". We predicted Dalston Square could become a buy-to-let opportunity for absentee landlords and become the slums of the future. Elsewhere similar schemes have been rejected. Perhaps these battles are what have prompted Barratt's opposition to popular localism policies. But Dalston Square's cheerleader, Hackney's Mayor Pipe, called the critics the "Keep Hackney Crap Brigade". Although Barratt is one of the 'preferred delivery partners' of the Homes and Communities Agency (which finances social housing) a review by the government's design quango CABE had found much of the publicly funded schemes built were unfit for purpose. But which major housebuilders were churning out rabbit hutches during the boom years is a state secret! Now we are bust can we expect the standards of new-build like Dalston Square to be any better?


  1. So depressing all of it.
    Two-thirds of the 5,500 new houses and flats sold in London during the first three quarters of 2009 were purchased as buy-to-let properties. Makes me weep. Glad to know the Labour party are supporting private investors Far East

  2. Frederich EngelsFriday, 05 March, 2010

    "The more that Londoners are packed into a tiny space, the more repulsive and disgraceful becomes the brutal indifference with which they ignore their neighbours and selfishly concentrate upon their private affairs"

  3. I know it feels depressing that properties are being bought as buy-to-lets rather than homes as it feels there is a soial inequality to the whole process. However I'm not sure that moderately densely populated mixed-use developments are the bane of society that people think they are. To counter I'd say that faceless bland surburbia is much more detrimental to society as it boxes people off and then puts a moat around their 'castle'. Densely populated town centres within cities work well within other European cities and let's not forget that the culture of an obsession to purchase property is a particularly British concern. Why can't we be a community of people who rent their homes rather than buy them? Also, maybe I don't want to be best friends with my neighbours.....after all, it is only a communally shared wall or floor that we share but in terms of personalities we're all completely different. As long as one gets along civilly and respects thei neighbour isn't that enough?

  4. Dalston Square will be very high density, in one of the most populated wards, in one of the most populated boroughs, in London. With a deficit of green space there and in Dalston generally. Neither will it be a balanced community - with only some 12% affordable housing. And a lot, it seems, may be owned by absentee landords - look at the fire bombed georgian terrace in Dalston Lane to see the neglect which that can lead to.

  5. The question of buy-to-let is interesting. We can ask, to what extent are buy-to-lets filled by people who have any stake in the locality, and for how long? It's my view that a piece of social engineering is going on. Hackney want to minimize the number of families they have to cater for, and so are rushing to fill derelict (or spaces they have deliberately made derelict) with the kinds of settlement that can only be lived in by childless people. This builds in a cycle of habitation where a good number of those childless people will move on as and when or if they have children. In terms of profit per square inch, children are loss-making. If you can fill every square inch with rent-payers, then you maximise land and dwelling space.

    I am in no doubt that if I've been able to think this through, then so have Hackney and this is their larger project. Mixed use or not mixed use don't come into this new kind of equation. This new equation is about profit per square inch, and bugger the neighbourhood.

  6. Another planning disasterThursday, 11 March, 2010

    Right on their door step Hackney councillors ride roughshed over a counservation area and allow the management of the Hackney Empire to fill it's empty coffers by flogging off its administration building at the back of the theatre on Wilton Way/Sylvester Path. The Hackney Labour administration are hell bent on destroying the makeup of Hackney with endless bland shoebox sized expensive high density flats. This block will be ideally located behind a Theatre and next to a pub! So perfect for noise complaints.

  7. Michael Rosen much as I admire much of what you have done you are not living in the same reality as me when you say that it is not possible for people with children to live in these developments - whether or not they want to many will have little choice but to raise their children in high rise privately rented high density flats as many parents already do at the same school your child attends - not everyone is as privileged as you unfortunately and owning a trad family home is a dream many should never even countenance...

  8. Clear Hardly

    I think you're being a bit melodramatic. I honestly don't think that absentee landlords at Dalston Square are going to let their investments go up in smoke. Secondly, the whole point of the 'Sqaure' aspect of Dalston Square is that it will be a green space where there was formerly a derelict railway line. Agreed there is profit-making occuring through foreign markets and having a low number of social/affordable housing but it's not all bad....

  9. I'm afraid Anonymous is wrong, there is not going to be green space where there was a derelict railway as part of this development, there is going to be more blocks of flats, infact almost twice as many as there was in phase 1. There is going to be a "public" square where there was a public road (Roseberry Place). The green space on a derelict railway track (across Dalston Lane) is separate from the Barratts development and is considered "temporary".

  10. Anonymous says of Dalston Square "its not all bad...". That's true - we need homes, and this development provides some. But it could have been so very much better.

  11. I hope the Curve garden is not 'temporary' as u say... I have lived here for over 30 years and this is the best thing we have had in a long time...hope we do not loose it! I hope we ALL fight to not loose it when time comes!!


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